Saudi Arabia, the world’s leading oil exporter, is temporarily withholding all oil shipments through the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait. According to the Saudi side, the suspension is a result of Houthi attacks on two crude-oil carrying vessels on the morning of July 25th.
On July 26th, Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih announced that the country would halt all oil shipments through the strait effective immediately. The suspension will supposedly last “until the situation becomes clearer and maritime transit through Bab al-Mandeb is safe” in al-Falih’s exact words from his statement. As reported by Al Arabiya, Falih also stressed that the threats of Houthi attacks against the crude oil carriers affect the freedom of international trade and maritime navigation.
One of the tankers targeted by the Houthi in the Red Sea suffered minor damage, the other one was left unscathed, as announced by the Saudi-Emirati coalition fighting in Yemen, reported by Al Jazeera. There were no casualties, there was also no spillage of crude oil in the sea, thus an environmental disaster was avoided.
In contrast, on the morning of July 25th, Houthi-run al-Masirah network reported that Yemeni fighters had launched a missile attack on the Saudi Dammam battleship, as reported by PressTV. In a separate statement by Yemen’s official SABA news agency, it was announced that the Houthis had also targeted a coalition ship off the coast of el-Durayhmi in southern Hudaydah port city.
PressTV quoted an anonymous Yemen Navy source that said the second coalition ship was carrying weapons and Saudi-coalition forces to Hudaydah. The port city has been the focus on operation Golden Victory, which began on June 13th, aimed at capturing the strategic location, however it has so far had no conclusive success.
Furthermore, Lebanon’s Arabic-language al-Mayadeen television news network quoted the Yemeni Navy that the ship had been destroyed and all people on board have been slain.
Yemen’s Naval and Coastal Defense Forces Command said in a statement, posted on the al-Masirah website that the operation “is not the first and will not be the last.”
“We reaffirm that those, who threaten international peace and security and expose the Red Sea security to great risks, are the US-Saudi aggression forces and their crimes and siege against the Yemeni people,” it added.
A full closure of the Bab el-Mandeb would force tankers sailing from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates “around the southern tip of Africa, which would add to transit time and cost,” according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, as reported by Bloomberg.
It is apparent that the Yemen conflict will continue, despite UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths’s attempts at establishing peace talks. The Saudi-led coalition does not want to solve the situation in a peaceful way and it has reached no significant battlefield success since the escalation around Hudaydah city, which started on June 13th. The Houthis are showing no signs of defeat and they will continue to target vessels and infrastructure of Saudi Arabia.
It is very likely that civilian suffering from the air and maritime blockade established by the coalition will continue. One of the worst humanitarian crises in the world will only be worsened.